For a long time, the only objectives I used for major accounts were very specific business objectives: “We will increase turnover by X%” or “We will introduce two new programs and increase our profitability by Y%”
Then, one day, I had what could only be described as a “minor epiphany” – I began to understand that these business objectives were simply not enough. I then discovered that multi-level objectives were a very powerful way to both win and retain business. Let me explain.
Within my strategy, there are four levels of objectives and together they create overall objectives that excite and motivate the team, and which are also very practical.
First, we set visionary objectives: We picture what the result could be if everything went well. We discipline ourselves not to be limited by history or today’s issues. The outcome is a very strong vision of what the account could be like in two or five or ten years.
Secondly, we set relationship objectives. Everyone in the account team needs to know what we want the relationship to feel like. For example, “Imagine you could hear your customer talking about you in two years time.” What would you want to hear them saying?
It might be statements like “We trust them completely” or “They always give us new ideas” and “Things do not go wrong often. But when they do they always make things right quickly.” We have found that these relationship objectives help us do everything in the way we should and in the way the customer wants, whereas in the past it was more difficult to be consistent and customer-centred.
So far, we have talked about quite “soft” objectives – how we want things to feel. The first two objectives are about emotion and imagination, but we need some “hard” objectives as well, so the third level is the level of business objectives.
These objectives are specific – very clear. “By the end of this year we will have increased sales of product A by 25% on last year’s volumes and maintained our profit margins. They are also measurable (if we cannot measure them, how will we know how we are progressing?) They must be agreed within the account team and maybe even agreed with the customer!
They must be realistic – other people will be depending on our forecasts. Finally, they must have a time-scale. Those business objectives provide the strong disciplines that we need to know in order to understand whether or not we are succeeding.
The final level of objectives is the level of stage goals. We may say that we will achieve a result of X by the end of year two within the key account and if this is to happen, we need to be planning where we should be at important dates.
If the objective is to be selling five products to the customer by the end of next year and we’re selling two today, we probably need to plan to have three in place by this October four in place by next March and five by next September. The stage goals make sure we are on target and allow us to solve problems before they become impossible to solve.
We have found that using these multi-level objectives helps to motivate each major account team member but can also help us significantly increase the amount and quality of business being done with key accounts.
More from less is a highly profitable business practice!